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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Space Chat: Bona Venture Stables

As someone who has followed St. Bonaventure basketball through the years, and with a younger brother who is an alum, I was happy to receive an email several months ago from the managing partner of Bona Venture Stables, Dan Collins, saying he enjoyed my blog. If you know anyone who attended Bonas, you'll know they are passionate about their school and their sports teams. The Reilly Center is a place that Jim Boeheim has vowed never to visit again. Anyways, after some correspondence I convinced him to do a little interweb chat with me once I heard the story of how he started his racing stable. How small a world is it, I actually know two of his investors, one played Little League ball with me in North Syracuse and the other is a current business client and friend of mine. Who knew? So here's our little space chat for your reading pleasure.

SpaceMan: How and when did Bona Venture Stables get its start?
Bona Venture Stables started in 2003 with a small group of St. Bonaventure University friends getting together and deciding to get into the horse business. So, we each pooled a few thousand dollars and we bought a horse. We were familiar with a small stable trainer Pete Wasiluk, so he helped us purchase the filly at an Ocala winter 2 year-old sale. I can’t recall what her original name was but none of us liked it. So my daughter came up with Princessinwaiting and we changed the name. We had a horse, a trainer and we headed to the races!

Bona Venture Stables is different that some of the major racing partnerships. We were started with a bunch of guys who all went to St. Bonaventure University. Hence the name Bona Venture Stables. Today we have about 40 individuals (not everyone is a Bonaventure graduate) involved in our horses. As in all the partnerships, each horse is syndicated as a separate legal limited liability company (LLC). So some owners are owners of one horse or several horses.

What makes us different is we don’t mark up the horses to guarantee the business makes a profit. In fact, our first objective isn’t about the business making money. The idea is for the individual horse owners to make money through their investment. If you can’t make money, then we at least want to be sure you had fun and enjoyed the experience of horse racing ownership. This isn’t my full-time job. It is a passion, a dream to have fun with horse racing.

We offer shares at the actual price of the horse purchase, a small monthly maintenance fee to cover miscellaneous costs, and the monthly training, veterinarian, etc. costs. We all are on a first name basis and we often get together at the track to watch the horse run. We try to make the racing game affordable for everyone. Most of our shares (5-10%) are in the range of an initial investment of $5,000 to $15,000. This gives an owner a share in the horse and it covers all monthly costs through a full year. So write a check for the initial investment and you don’t have another cost for at least 12 months.

On occasion we’ve put a package together for St. Bonaventure University graduates or friends of the university who want to be involved. In this case we commit 10% of the horse winnings to the Bonaventure Athletic Fund and we usually name the horse around a university theme. We have had horses named Saint Bonaventure, Bonaventure Dreams, Merton’s Heart and our newest - It’s the Big Cat. It’s the Big Cat is named after the university’s greatest basketball star and NBA all-star Bob Lanier. He was known as The Big Cat when he played basketball for SBU and later the Detroit Pistons.

It’s the Big Cat will race at Saratoga this summer. He is a 2 year-old NY bred.

SpaceMan: Do you remember your first win and can you describe your emotions and what it meant to BVS?
Sure. Bona Venture Stables has always had several types of horse ownerships. We have LLC partnerships with a group of owners. We also have a few horses that are 50/50 partnerships, usually one or two owners and me. And there are a few just owned by my family. As partners we had Princessinwaiting but my family’s first horse was Striking Flames. We bought this horse at the 2002 fall Keeneland sale. She ran for the first time in the summer of 2003 and broke her maiden at Delaware Park. My daughter Claire, her friend Meryl Dann and I were present for Bona Venture Stables’ first win!

This was really very exciting. Standing in the winners circle and knowing that we had a runner. It was great! My daughter was smiling from ear to ear. After all Striking Flames was named after her soccer team – The Flames and her position on the field – striker.

SpaceMan: What is the biggest win to date for the Stable?
BVS: This is hard to say. We haven’t won a stakes race yet but our most successful horse, Undeniable Queen ran third in the NATC Futurity back in 2004 when the race was being held at Delaware Park. As the small field of 8 turned for home we thought we had a winner but our young jockey, actually a kid riding at Philadelphia Park, was really schooled by NY jockey Aaron Gryder. Unfortunately we went a bit wide on the turn and Gryder slid along the rail and pushed us further out. We lost ground and just missed 2nd. Gryder’s horse won by about 10 lengths that day.

Undeniable Queen had the most potential of any of our horses. She finished in the money in 5 of 6 races as a 2 year-old but early in her 3 year-old season she took a bad step in her only turf races and wrenched her ankle. She was never the same after that.

SpaceMan: How many horses do you currently have in training? Any broodmares or just race horses?
BVS: Bona Venture Stables has three horses currently in training in New York. A 4 year-old, Prince Dubai; a 3 year-old, Pink Freud; and our newest 2 year-old, It’s the Big Cat. We have one at Finger Lakes named Doctor Problum and we are down to only 1 horse at Delaware Park this summer – Song of Alydar. We started the season with 7 at Delaware but injuries and a rash of claiming has depleted our racing team at the moment. We also have a NY bred 2 year-old by Desert Warrior, Cowboyonthewarpath. He is at a Florida training farm. We plan to have him ready to race as a 3 year-old next winter at Tampa Bay Downs. If he is competitive we’ll shift to Belmont and Saratoga for the spring and summer meet with him.

We had two broodmares but we just retired one and the other died from colic while carrying a foal. That was very sad. She was a favorite of the team. We do have two yearlings on the farm- an absolutely gorgeous athletic-looking NY bred colt by Hook and Ladder and a Florida bred by Wekiva Springs. Both of these yearlings are from mares that once raced for Bona Venture Stables.

We do plan to have another mare or two become broodmares for us. We want to specialize in NY breds and race on the NYRA circuit as much as possible.

We haven’t made definite plans yet, but our early plan is to put several partnerships together this fall and early winter with the intent on purchasing 2 or 3 high-value NY breds at the winter sales for racing in the spring of 2010.

SpaceMan: What trainers does your stable utilize and what do you look for in a trainer?
BVS: At the moment we engage 3 trainers. Pete Wasiluk has been with us since the beginning. He trains at Tampa Bay Downs in the winter and Delaware Park in the summer. We also use Leah Gyarmati for our NY breds on the NYRA circuit. Leah is permanently stabled at Belmont Park and shifts a part of her stable to Saratoga in the summer. We also use Jeremiah Englehart at Finger Lakes Race Track.

We are a small stable and many of our investors/owners like to be very involved in the horses. So we look for trainers who are also hands-on and who don’t mind dealing with large ownership groups and answering basic questions about racing, horse training and so forth. For example, Leah works many of her own horses in the morning. Pete’s operation is family based. He rubs down the horses and can be found in the stalls at all hours. His wife is the stable pony rider. Jeremiah is a young, upcoming training at Finger Lakes who also is very involved in each horse.

Additionally we look for a trainer who has a relatively concentrated stable. We like being on a first name basis with the trainer and assistant trainer. We want to know that they are very familiar with our horses and know each horse well. We don’t want to be a number lost in a large stable.

SpaceMan: Who is the current superstar(s) of the stable right now and what’s next for him/her?
We don’t really have a superstar at the moment. But we are very excited about our newest 2 year-old, It’s the Big Cat. He is a big, strong colt by Kitten’s Joy. He is bred for the turf and he’s turned a few heads in his early training at Belmont Park. He seems to glide over the turf course in training. We originally planned to debut him in July at Belmont but it is now likely we’ll save his first race until the Saratoga meet.

Thanks Dan for spending the time to get to know ya! You can follow Bona Venture Stables on Twitter or check in at their website for more info.


malcer said...

Good questions and good responses, thanks!

Space Bro said...

Other possible names Bona Venture should consider:
"Size 22"
"TP the Court"

Bill Shor said...

This is pretty interesting. Its been aa long time since I never heard news about Bona Venture Stables now that I move here in Saratoga Springs.


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